Steve Carell’s long road to next year’s Oscars ceremony started in Cannes this week, when he wowed critics with his performance as schizophrenic millionaire John du Pont in Bennett Miller’s “Foxcatcher.” On Tuesday, Sony Pictures Classics hosted a lunch for journalists–the first of awards season 2014!–on behalf of the film, and Carell talked about making the physical transformation of his career.

It started with the schnoz. To play du Pont, Carell wears a prosthetic, which he chose after trying on other noses of “different sizes and shapes,” Carell said. “Du Pont’s nose is actually larger, but we did camera and lighting tests to see what worked better.” Like Nicole Kidman in “The Hours,” the prop made his character alive. “It’s a jarring look,” Carell said. “I think on set, it helped isolate me in a way. because just based on my appearance, I was not very approachable. People kept their distance, which is good.”

His metamorphosis–which included layers of makeup to change his skin tone and a tight haircut–began every morning two hours before the rest of the cast got there. “By the time everyone else arrived, I was already in character,” Carell said. “So for a few months, no one really saw me, because they’d all leave before I had to take it off.” He and Channing Tatum (who plays Olympic wrestler Mark Schultz) had an informal agreement not to spent time between takes together, as a way to capture their awkward encounters onscreen.

Carell watched hours of film starring du Pont, who commissioned documentaries about his own life, including raw footage that still existed. The actor, known for his comedic roles, concedes that playing the part made me nervous at first. “I didn’t have doubts,” Carell said, “but it was scary, because it’s nothing I’ve ever done before. But I didn’t do it in order to prove anything either. I don’t really care about that. I thought it would be a challenge.”

Sony Pictures Classics, which releases “Foxcatcher” on Nov. 14, will campaign both Carell and Tatum as lead actors in next year’s Oscars race, with Mark Ruffalo (as wrestler David Schultz) in the supporting actor category. “There are so many times that actors from the same film are nominated in lead,” said the studio’s co-president Michael Barker. “We just believe all these performances are so great.”